Monday 25 June 2012

The Headmaster's Wager

Finished June 25
The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

This novel is set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but also looks back at the main character's life up to this point. Chen Pie Sou (Percival Chen) was born in China. His father dreamed of the Gold Mountain, earning money elsewhere to make a better life for his family. But he got caught up in the life there and seldom came home to his wife and child. When his mother died, Chen was sent to school in Hong Kong, where he learned English and set the road for his future. The Japanese invasion of Hong Kong resulted in Chen joining his father in Cholon, Vietnam and helping him back to the man he used to be.
Following the war, Chen found a new life for his father's warehouse in a school to teach English, and grew comfortable in the expat Chinese community there.
But the new war brings both trouble and opportunity. Chen's family is torn apart again, and he sinks further into the life of women and gambling that has always been a weakness. Desperate to save his school, he makes an extraordinary wager, all or nothing, that sets his future.
This is the story of four generations of Chinese men, of their pride, their love, and their dreams.
Lam gives a real sense of the life of a well-off Chinese man in Vietnam during this time period, the social situation, and the dangers. Chen is a complex man, and we see him develop over time, through his first love and marriage, and his later love. We see him as he becomes prideful, and comes to understand that pride has its place and time. He grows as a person, and has his own weaknesses and regrets, but turns out to have resourcefulness when it comes down to it.
A fascinating book, great for book clubs.

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